Master Chief (Halo, Play Arts KAI, Square Enix)

I’ve now played through and beaten every Halo game except ODST (which I’m sure I’ll get around to someday). Halo 4 came out just last month, and represents something of a new direction for the franchise as it begins to explore the “Ancient Aliens” origin of the Halo megastructures. It also begins to (finally!) develop the characters of the franchise’s hero, the Master Chief, and his artificial intelligence-based guide and love interest, Cortana.

I’m not going to pretend that the Master Chief is some sort of deep, memorable character. He’s basically just the most prominent iteration of the Doomguy, only less expressive since you can never see his face. But nonetheless I’ve had an affinity for the Chief since playing through the first Halo.

I’ve owned a few Master Chief figures over the years, starting with those old ones by Joyride Studios and through to the McFarlane era. None of those figures ever quite captured what I wanted in a Master Chief, though. I wanted three things: a good sculpt, great articulation that allowed him to hold his gun in multiple poses with two hands, and most importantly, it had to be the Master Chief from the first Halo. No one – not quite even McFarlane – ever delivered on that to my satisfaction.

And so I was pretty excited when I saw that Square Enix would be adding a Master Chief based on the recent, updated anniversary edition of Halo: Combat Evolved to their Play Arts KAI line. Like all PAK figures, the design would be primarily based on the game but would contain some artistic license. As it turned out, Square Enix took quite a bit of artistic license.

Packaging: The Master Chief comes in a window box that’s far more appealing than the one that Arkham Asylum Batman came in.

Design & Sculpt: This is not the Master Chief of Halo: Combat Evolved. Not at all. It’s clearly the Master Chief from the second and third games. There’s not a single nod to the first game’s outfit that I can find. Even the Chief of the updated Anniversary Edition, with its higher-res graphics, still looked very different from the later versions. Square Enix can call it a Combat Evolved figure all it wants. It’s not. I wonder why they decided to basically make a Halo 3 Master Chief but call it a Combat Evolved one. But I can guess at a couple reasons.

First, the original “Spartan” suit is very simple and blocky, while the later suits are more form-fitting. I think the slender suit is a better fit for the aesthetic of Play Arts KAI and, judging from most manga and anime, Japan’s own stylistic preferences these days. Second, when this figure came out, Halo 4 was still a year away and the only Halo game with any buzz was the Anniversary Edition, so perhaps Square Enix just wanted to piggyback on the hype.

I could probably spend an hour isolating every little piece of armor to determine what’s based on what version of the Chief (and what’s newly created by the Square Enix sculptors), but suffice to say it’s a bit of a mix from the second and third games. The only one it’s definitely not is the one it’s supposed to be, from the first game. So if you’re looking for a super-accurate sculpt of the Chief from any particular game, this is not it. The McFarlane figures are probably closer, if a bit less detailed.

The sculpt on this figure is great – with certain accounting for tastes. Like all Square Enix figures, Master Chief does have certain anime-ized proportions, particularly in the thunderous thighs and narrow torso and chest. But there’s a ton of detailing on nearly every surface. The overall design provides a good sense of the slightly chunky feel of the character’s CGI look in the game. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but is hopefully captured in the photos.

Plastic & Paint: While I was a bit unhappy with the paint on the Arkham Asylum Batman, this figure’s paint is amazing. The fading contrasts of light and dark green on the armor is evocative of the way the armor reflects light in the game – a feature I haven’t seen captured on any other Master Chief figure.

If there’s any part of the paint work that disappoints, it’s that I do wish his visor could have been chromed. However, it’s a minor point.

Articulation: I guess I’ll just crib from my Batman review, since this figure basically has the same articulation.

The head is on a double-ball-and-socket joint, with one ball in the neck and one in the head. The shoulders are mounted on a hinge that swings out, so he can cross his arms easily (and hold even his pistol in two hands). The shoulder is attached to the hinge via a ball-and-socket joint, which is in turn attached to a ball-and-hinge joint – you can see how this works in this pic from my Batman review.

The biceps are swivels, while the elbows all swivel-ball hybrids. The wrists are also swivel-ball hybrids. The upper torso is a ball joint, the waist is a ball joint, the hips are ball-and-sockets, the knees are double-hinge joints, and the ankles are ball-and-hinge hybrids.

The knees are interesting. They’re not the usual double-hinges we’ve seen on Marvel Legends, where the hinges are right next to each other. They’re designed to look like part of the leg. Unlike with Batman, the cyborg-ish look the knees have work with the Master Chief since, well, he already looks like a robot.

The hinges are all ratchet joints, which means they hold their positions well (but the ratchets are less rigid than Revoltech, whose ratchets can get in the way of posing).

Accessories: Master Chief comes with the iconic Halo assault rifle, a pistol, two alternate hands, and two pegs (I broke one before taking these photos) that can be inserted into the guns and then into a hole either on the Chief’s back (for the rifle) or his thigh (for the pistol).

The weapons look great and have multiple paint apps. I particularly appreciated the fact that the triggers were designed as being pulled back into the gun rather than sticking out, waiting to be accidentally snapped off as you put the gun in the figure’s hand. Speaking of, getting the guns into the hands can take a bit of effort but there’s no real risk of damaging the gun (unless you’re really careless with the pistol and break the oversized trigger-guard).

The alternate hands can be a pain to swap out as well, but they’re a nice addition and allow for some great posing.

Quality Control: One of my Master Chief’s feet was missing a part. Though I got the figure via FigureoftheDay.com, I contacted Square Enix about the problem via their official North American merchandise website. They asked me for some photos. After a few weeks they mailed me a replacement leg. The hips are just big ball joints, so I was easily able to swap the legs.

Now, this whole thing was pretty painless for me. But as I mentioned in my Batman review, Phil Reed of Battlegrip has been having an ongoing problem getting a replacement arm for one of his Play Arts KAI figures. So, caveat emptor.

Otherwise, the figure is actually quite durable. It may feel a little loose in your hands, what with all the articulation, but it’s not going to break without some effort (except for the little pegs with the guns – be careful with those).

Overall: This figure is not without flaws, the most prominent being, for me, that it’s not really the Master Chief from my favorite game of the series, Halo: Combat Evolved. But that’s not really the figure’s fault, and setting that aside, this is easily the best Master Chief figure I’ve ever owned. While the thunder thighs turned me off a little at first, as I’ve grown used to them the figure itself has also grown on me. Now it’s one of my favorite display figures.

While I did have the problem with the feet, the experience of getting the replacement part was refreshingly easy (which makes it even sadder Phil is having such a hard time).

This figure will set you back about $60 at standard retail, which is just too much for me to really get into collecting this line. Besides, all they’ve released so far is multiple Spartans, and I hardly need any more of those. However, if Square Enix ever makes an enemy Elite, I may just cave in and nab one of those – Master Chief needs someone to fight.

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